Copyright 2001 www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All
The Oxford Companion to J. M. W.
Turner: The Great Watercolours
Turner: Interior of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire,
c. 1794. Pencil and watercolour; 32.1 x 25.1 cm.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Photograph: Turner: Aquarelle. Hirmer. Copyright.
Turner: Petworth, Sussex, the Seat of the Earl of Egremont: Dewy
Morning, RA 1810. Oil on canvas; 91.4 x 120.6 cm. Tate Gallery and the
National Trust (Lord Egremont Collection), Petworth House.
Photograph: The Oxford Companion To J. M. W. Turner. Copyright.
Turner: Seascape, Folkestone, c. 1845. Oil on canvas; 88.3 x 117.5
Private Collection, New York. Photograph: The Oxford Companion To
J. M. W. Turner. Copyright.
Turner: Der Lauerzer See mit dem Mythen, c. 1848. Watercolour
and Indian ink; 33.7 x 54.5 cm. The Victoria and Albert
Museum, London. Photograph:
This article is based on:
The Oxford Companion To
J. M. W. Turner, ed. by Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin, Luke Herrmann. OUP,
2001, 419 p. It is a reference guide with over 760 alphabetical
entries covering all aspects of Turner's life and art as well as his
reception past and present. Furthermore, the cultural, social and
political context in which he worked is explained. It comes with a
detailed bibliography and chronology. Get it from: Amazon.co.uk,
Turner: The Great Watercolours, ed. by Eric Shanes, Evelyn Joll, Ian Warrell, Andrew Wilton.
Royal Academy of the Arts/Thames and Hudson/Harry N Abrams, 2000. It is
the catalogue of the Royal Academy exhibition in London for Turner's 150th
year of death. The biography provided by The Oxford Companion is
more detailed and accurate, but the book is essential for understanding
Turner's watercolours. Get it from: Amazon.co.uk,
German edition/Deutsche Ausgabe: Turner. Aquarelle. Hirmer, München,
2001, 254 p. Get it from/Bestellen bei Amazon.de.
Article added on June
Turner is acknowledged as one of
Britain's greatest painters. His landscapes are considered some of the
finest in history. The reproductions of four of his works on the left show
the tremendous artistic progress Turner has brought to art world. The two
lower photographs show why he was appreciated by the Impressionists and
why he is considered one of their forerunners. Hercules Brabazon Brabazon
(himself a frontrunner), Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro studied his
work. But there was one essential difference between Turner's working
methods and the one of the Impressionists: Turner painted his oils in the
studio and not in the open.
Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in
London in 1775. His father, a prosperous barber and wigmaker in Covent
Garden, supported and promoted his son's ambitions to become an artist
from his earliest childhood. Turner had deep knowledge of the classics
and the Bible and attended recitations of Shakespeare. He received early
training in several architects' offices from 1789 on and was during his
lifetime the master of three major architectural projects. He was
introduced to the world of the technical and practical which fostered his
interest in how things worked. He was fond of modern gadgets such as a
swivelling painting table or a water closet. Turner also enjoyed the
equipment in John Jabez Edwin Mayall's (1813-1901) studio. Mayall was a
daguerrotypist and photographer whose studio he visited regularly from
1847 on - apparently incognito.
In 1786, Turner was sent to stay in Margate
where he made his earliest surviving drawings. In 1789, the year of the
French Revolution, he took classes with Thomas Malton and was later
accepted to the Royal Academy Schools. where, in 1790, he had his first
picture exhibited at the yearly exhibition.
In 1791, he traveled through the West
Country and sometimes worked as a scene-painter at the Pantheon Opera
House. In 1792/93, Turner came in contact with the Society of Arts which,
in 1793, awarded him the Great Silver Pallet as a prize for his landscape
watercolours. A year later, art critics took notice of his work. From
1796, his oil paintings were regularly shown at the Royal Academy. He also
added poems to his works exhibited at the Academy, e.g. in 1800.
In 1799, Turner was recommended to Lord
Elgin to accompany him to Greece as his draughtsman but Elgin found
Turner's terms too stiff. In 1801, Turner traveled for the first time
through Scotland. A year later, he became a Royal Academician and, during
the Peace of Amiens, embarked on his first Continental tour which led him,
among others, to France and Switzerland where the Swiss Alps were to
inspire him for the rest of his life. In Paris, he spent three weeks
studying the pictures in the Louvre.
In 1801, the American-born history painter
and President of the Royal Academy (1792-1805) Benjamin West (1738-1820)
as well as the Swiss-born history painter Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) who
worked in London from 1799 and was Professor of Painting at the Royal
Academy from 1799-1805 and 1810-1825 and Keeper 1804-1805, both
considered Turner's Dutch Boats in a Gale superior to Rembrandt. By
the way, some Swiss readers may wonder who Fuseli is - in Switzerland he is known as the Zurich-born Johan Heinrich
In 1803, Turner became a member of the
Royal Academy Council as well as the Hanging Committee. The following
year, his mother died. Turner opened his own gallery at his house in
London's Harley Street. Three years later, he was appointed professor for
perspective at the Royal Academy. In 1808, he met for the first time
Walter Fawkes in Farnley Hall, Yorkshire, a politician and landowner who
became his close friend.
In 1817, Turner traveled through Belgium,
Holland and along the Rhine between Cologne and Mainz. The following year,
James Hakewill commissioned watercolours of Italian landscapes from Turner
and, together with other artists, Sir Walter Scott commissioned
watercolours for the Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of
Scotland. Both contracts led to extensive travels. In Italy in 1819,
Turner made over 2,000 sketches.
Around 1820, Benjamin Godfrey Windus from
Tottenham, London, began to collect Turner's watercolours. Some 20 years
later, his collection counted some 200 works.
In 1822, Turner opened a new gallery with
an exhibition of mainly earlier, unsold works. By the end of the same
year, on the advice of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), an English
portrait painter and friend and patron of Turner, who, in 1820, had become
the President of the Royal Academy, the King commissioned Turner to paint The
Battle of Trafalgar for St. James's Palace.
In 1829, Turner's father died. He had been
a "willing slave" and managed Turner's studio, stretching and
priming canvases, manning the gallery and cooking. There is evidence of
Turner's early dandyishness and swagger. But after his father's death,
who, as a retired barber, had helped keep him neat and tidy, declined into
genteel shabbiness in both person and property.
In 1832, Turner became a regular visitor to
Sophia Caroline Booth's (1798-1875) lodgings at Margate. She had been his
landlady in his schooldays and, after her husbands death in 1833, became
his companion. Turner's 1846 will bequeathed her with an equal annuity of
£150 and appointed her co-custodian of his gallery, together with Hannah
Danby (1786-1853), who was reported to have been Turner's housekeeper for
In 1836, Turner's paintings at the Royal
Academy exhibition received virulent criticism in Blackwood's Magazine
from Reverend John Eagles. In October, the English art and social critic
John Ruskin (1819-1900) wrote a defence of Turner but the artist advised
against publication. Ruskin became the leading interpreter of the artist's
work and had to execute his will.
In 1844, Turner made his final tour of
Switzerland - in this article, of course, only of few of the artist's
extensive travels and exhibition's are mentioned. Turner was Deputy
President of the Royal Academy. During the President's illness in 1845,
Turner was appointed Acting President of the RA.
In 1845, Turner made his last trip abroad
to Dieppe and the coast of Picardy. He also dined with Louis-Philippe at
his Château at Eu. From 1846 on, Turner's health was declining. In 1847, Dogano...
from the Steps of Europe became the first Turner painting to hang in
the National Gallery. The following year, for the first time since 1824,
Turner had nothing for the Royal Academy. He hired a young artist, Francis
Sherrell (1826-1916), as his studio assistant. For most of Turner's life,
his father had held this position. Sherrell seems to have stretched
canvases, run errands and may have cleaned some of the pictures in
exchange for lessons.
In 1849, the Society of Arts asked Turner
if he he will permit a retrospective of his work. He declined it
"from a peculiar inconvenience this year". In 1850, Turner
exhibited his last four pictures at the Royal Academy. He died on December
19, 1851 and was buried in St Paul's Cathedral at the end of the same